Scientists Detect a Planet around PDS 70

Scientists Detect a Planet around PDS 70

Credit: SciTechDaily

The combination of SPHERE and the Very Large Telescope discovered a forming planet in its youth.

Space has been surprising us ever since we started exploring it. Entities like Nebulas, Black Holes, and Exoplanets have a nag of amazing us with their mysteries and secrets. Scientists are always trying to unveil more and more information about our surroundings and their efforts have certainly met some success in the last few decades. We know a lot more about our universe as probes are going as far as interstellar space. Similarly, discoveries of exoplanets have given a totally different angle to space exploration. Recently, astronomers captured the first-of-its-kind snapshot of a newborn planet, PDS 70b, around a young dwarf star known as PDS 70.

What’s interesting is that the scientists are considering it a baby planet despite the fact that it is developing for more than 5 million years. In order to understand the logic behind this claim, you will need to know the age of its host star. According to the researchers, PDS 70 is only 6 million years old and it is an extremely negligible number given the age of some of the ancient stars of our universe. For instance, the central point of our solar system, the Sun, is nearly 4.5 billion years old. The Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE) planet-hunting instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) was used to detect this immature planet.

The fact that the SPHERE instrument allowed the scientists to view the planet in different wavelengths enabled them to deduce the properties of its atmosphere. Firstly, they observed signs of youth in the star system as a disk of gas and dust with leftovers from the time of formation of the parent star was seen. Generally, stars, as well as planets, are formed in clouds of dust and gas. These clouds tend to disappear with time due to the following reasons.

·         Solar wind, which is actually the stream of charged particles, from the star blows away excessive dust and gas.

·         As planets accrete, they utilize most of the gas and the dust to increase their size.

Despite these assumptions, astronomers are still unsure about the exact reasons and want to study more star systems to arrive at a unanimous conclusion. Andre Muller and Miriam Keppler, who participated in the study at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, described that in the following words:

So far, several thousands of planets around other stars have been discovered, but astronomers still know very little about how they actually form, since most of the observed planets are orbiting around mature — or old — stars.”

PDS 70b is clearly visible as a bright spot to the right side of the blackened center of the image. This darkening is done through a mask called Coronagraph which has the ability to block the bright light of the star to assist astronomers in detecting the fainter disc of the planet. It is much hotter than any planet of our solar system as the temperature of its surface goes up to 1000o C. It is simply a giant having a mass a few times that of the biggest planet of our solar system, Jupiter.

According to an estimate, it is at a distance of 3 billion kilometers from the PDS 70 which is roughly equivalent to the distance between Sun and the Uranus. Despite this gap, it will be impossible to detect the planet without the mask as the star’s brightness will overwhelm the planetary disc. Keppler mentioned the difficulty in locating them as she said,

These discs around young stars are the birthplaces of planets, but so far only a handful of observations have detected hints of baby planets in them. The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc.”

The team of astronomers told the world that they will continue their study of the planet through different telescopes in order to know more about its weather, composition and other properties. Right now, it is too hot to support life but the temperature of young planets tends to go down as they become mature. Both the lead authors mentioned that by saying,

It will probably still take several millions of years until the planet stops collecting surrounding gas and dust. Until then, it will grow just a little bit more in mass. When this process stops, its temperature will decrease and the planet will get cooler. How long exactly these processes will take is part of current research in astronomy.”

Computer Scientist by qualification who loves to read, write, eat, and travel

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